PARIS - The International Atomic Energy Agency adopted a resolution yesterday welcoming Iran's promised suspension of its nuclear program but said it would continue to monitor Iran's activities.
The resolution came after Iran backed off Sunday from a demand to operate uranium enrichment equipment that could be used either for energy purposes or in a nuclear bomb-making project.
The board of the IAEA, the United Nations nuclear monitoring body based in Vienna, Austria, approved the resolution, which recognizes that Iran's suspension of sensitive nuclear activities was "a voluntary, confidence-building measure, not a legal obligation," according to a copy of the resolution posted on the agency's Web site.
"Today, agency inspectors put surveillance cameras in place to monitor the 20 sets of centrifuge components," said the agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei. "The identification numbers have also been received. As a consequence, all measures necessary for the verification of Iran's suspension of enrichment-related activities are in place."
The Iranian retreat appeared to salvage a nuclear agreement reached Nov. 15 between Iran and France, Britain and Germany to freeze Iran's uranium enrichment, conversion and reprocessing activities. It also paved the way for the 35 countries that make up the ruling board of the IAEA to pass the resolution, only mildly critical of Iran's nuclear program.
Such a resolution is certain to disappoint the Bush administration, which is convinced that despite Iran's denials, it has a covert program to build nuclear weapons, not simply to produce energy. The administration had wanted much tougher language in the resolution.
The United States said in response to the board's decision that it had the right to unilaterally report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
"The United States reserves all of its options with respect to Security Council consideration of the Iranian nuclear weapons program," said the head of the U.S. delegation to the IAEA, Jackie Sanders.
Iran's suspected nuclear ambition has become a leading source of worry in the Bush administration, which has said it will not allow Iran, with its avowed hostility to the United States, to attain nuclear weapons or even develop a comprehensive peaceful nuclear energy program.
Iran's key compromise came in the form of a letter on Sunday to the IAEA. In the letter, Iran withdrew its demand to operate 20 centrifuges - uranium enrichment machines - for research and development purposes.
"Iran will permit the IAEA to place these centrifuges under agency surveillance," said Hossein Mousavian, the chief Iranian negotiator, in a telephone interview from Vienna. "Iran will not conduct any testing."
Asked specifically whether the machines would be turned off, as the Europeans have demanded, Mousavian replied: "We say Iran will not conduct any testing," adding that the matter of Iran's desire to continue research will be discussed when Iran and the European countries begin talks in the coming weeks on possible economic, technological and political incentives for Iran under the European agreement.
After the letter was received, the three European countries formally submitted a draft resolution on Iran to the IAEA.
Mousavian had said the 20 centrifuge machines would not be sealed but placed under camera surveillance, a face-saving move that the IAEA said would be acceptable in terms of its monitoring capacity.
In another face-saving gesture, the Iranians said in their letter to the agency that there would be no "testing," rather than no "research and development."
But a senior European official involved in the negotiations said that under the new arrangement, "The machines will not rotate an inch."
Despite its softer language, the resolution calls for continuing investigations into sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program.
The resolution also mentions "many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply" with international nuclear safeguards but notes that Iran has taken "corrective measures" since beginning to disclose parts of its atomic program in October 2003.